India refuses foreign-funding licence for Mother Teresa’s charity

Crack down on Missionaries of Charity as Modi’s government tightens restrictions on NGOs and charities

India has refused to renew the foreign-funding licence for the Missionaries of Charity, the Christian order founded by Mother Teresa famous for its work with the country's poor, following long-running efforts to tighten curbs on charities funded by overseas contributions.

The move comes as members of prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party and other Hindu nationalist groups target what they claim are attempts by Christians to use charity as a means to convert Hindus, who make up India’s religious majority.

Announcing the move on Monday, the home ministry said it refused to renew the Missionaries of Charity’s registration under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, which controls non-profit groups’ ability to receive overseas funding, on Christmas Day.

The Missionaries of Charity’s registration for such funding will expire on December 31st. While it would still be able to operate, the charity and other groups rely on overseas funding, such as from the Catholic community outside India.

The home ministry said that “some adverse inputs were noticed” while reviewing the charity’s renewal application, without elaborating. It denied allegations made by several opposition politicians that it had frozen the Missionaries of Charity’s bank accounts.

Founded by Mother Teresa in 1950, the Missionaries of Charity has been widely recognised for its work caring for sick and poor residents of Kolkata in eastern India and elsewhere. It is one of the world’s best-known Catholic charities.

Mother Teresa, a Catholic nun who was born in Macedonia in 1910 and later moved to India, won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her work. Pope Francis declared her to be a saint in 2016, 19 years after her death.

The Missionaries of Charity has long attracted the ire of right-wing Hindus, who accuse it of using charitable work to convert beneficiaries to Christianity. This month, it faced a police complaint in Gujarat in western India for allegedly trying to forcibly convert Hindu girls.

The group denied the allegations, saying it had “not converted anyone or forced anyone to marry into Christian faith”, according to the Indian Express.

Bank accounts

In a statement on Monday, the Missionaries of Charity confirmed that its “FCRA renewal application has not been approved” and that it would not operate any foreign-funded accounts “until the matter is resolved”. It also denied that its bank accounts had been frozen by the government.

Modi's government has for years sought to squeeze foreign-funded NGOs and charities. The government last year tightened restrictions on non-profit groups and previously froze bank accounts of groups such as Greenpeace and Amnesty International.

Many Christians, who make up about two per cent of the population, say assaults and intolerance against them from members of India’s Hindu right wing are rising.

Several Christmas celebrations over the weekend were disrupted by Hindu nationalist activists who protested outside gatherings and a church in northern India was vandalised.

Authorities have also cracked down on what they allege are campaigns by Muslims and Christians to convert Hindus, who make up about four-fifths of India’s population. Critics say such allegations are conspiracy theories used to restrict the rights of religious minorities.

Several BJP-ruled states have recently passed or are considering laws barring religious conversion for marriage under the conspiratorial spectre of a campaign of “love jihad” by Muslim men to convert Hindu women.

– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021